My friend Bill Kreidler used to say that being a member of a local meeting is “lab practice” for the Kingdom of God. We practice our eternal salvation in our meetings. We are given a blessed opportunity to sit in worship with the very people whom we find most irritating. We are given the holy chance to serve on a committee with the most difficult folks imaginable. As we do, we notice ourselves thinking that if only those people would change, our meeting would be so much healthier!
And — we are given the grace to see those people as God sees them: pilgrims on the way of faith, beloved in their brokenness, caught in tender arms each time they stumble, necessary to the community, graced with spiritual gifts in the process of maturing. It is just as we hope God sees us.
So we practice the kingdom when we come together in our local meeting for worship and work.
The work of the local meeting is the work of the kingdom. It’s the place where kingdom values, kingdom love, kingdom compassion and kingdom forgiveness are made tangible — and the place where the prophetic transformation of the world begins. This is why Friends don’t worship alone. This is why Friends don’t have “freelance” ministers or independent ministries not tied to the worshipping community. Ours is not a do-it-yourself religion; it is a do-it-together experiment in a blessed community. By doing it together, we witness to the world that reconciliation is possible and that the process is transformational.
I’m in Tanzania as I write this, and I’ve just witnessed a remarkable example of messy holy lab work. Tanzania Yearly Meeting suffered for many years under the tyrannical leadership of one person. That one man inflicted huge damage on his own family, on the reputation of the church and on scores of individuals. Although he died in 2008, the pain continues, and the damage to the
community persists. The yearly meeting chose “A New Beginning” as its theme for this year. Through the grace of God, Friends are learning to speak the truth of what happened, to forgive each other, to take cautious steps of trust and to call on the Holy Spirit to help bind them in restored unity. They are practicing the kingdom. It is hard, messy work, but they know that it is only through this process that they can make a compelling witness to the love of Jesus Christ in their community.
Few meetings will experience trauma as damaging as Tanzania Yearly Meeting’s was, but all meetings are given the opportunity for lab practice. All Friends are given the chance to work out the blessed community “in fear and trembling.”